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Manufacturing Disaster

It is commonly said that by storing weapons in mosques and firing rockets and mortars from residential areas and school yards, Hamas is using human shields in Gaza, a war crime. But the truth is really worse than that. Hamas doesn’t endanger civilians in hopes that it will deter retaliation; it does so in the hope and expectation that civilians will be killed and wounded.

This tactic is part of a larger strategy to create tragedy and disaster, which the Palestinians have developed into something akin to an industrial process. They build tunnels, but they do not build bomb shelters. They do not, apparently, suspend classes in schools in the midst of bombardments. And Hamas, with the tolerance if not approval of most Gazans, uses schoolyards as launching zones for rockets and mortars. Think about it: is there anything about a schoolyard that makes it a particularly desirable place from which to fire ordnance? No. Hamas uses schools (and mosques, and residential areas generally) in this way in the hope that civilians, especially children, will be killed.

News service photographers play a key role in the production of civilian casualties. If the casualties were not documented in graphic fashion, they would not be an effective tool to stir up hatred against Israel and sympathy for the hapless Palestinians. Accordingly, the job of the news photographer is to be on the spot when tragedy strikes so that, within days if not hours, the images of Palestinian suffering thus captured can be reproduced on placards in anti-Israel rallies around the world.

Khalil Hamra of the Associated Press is one such photographer. Hamra specializes in “reaction” shots: “Palestinians react after seeing the bodies of relatives…,” “Palestinian women react from a window…,” “A Palestinian reacts as others tend to the wounded…,” and so on. On occasion, Hamra has been accused of fakery. In this photo, taken during the current conflict in Gaza, the man on the left appears to be injured, but the children on the right do not. They look as though they were told to lie down so they could be photographed with the injured man and described as “children…wounded in an Israeli missile strike:”

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As I noted here, the AP and Reuters appear to be trying, this time, to avoid the fauxtography that has embarrassed them in Lebanon two years ago and in other conflicts in the region. Nevertheless, a few staged or faked images seem to have gotten through, as Scott noted earlier this morning.

What brought Khalil Hamra to my attention a couple of days ago was a series of photos that he apparently took immediately after an Israeli missile strike. [Warning: the picture that follows is graphic.] This is the one that caught my eye:

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The Associated Press caption reads:

A Palestinian woman reacts over relatives moments after they were killed in an Israeli missile strike outside their home in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip,Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009. Five Palestinians were killed in the strike, Palestinian medical sources said.

There was another photo of the same scene, taken just a second or two before or after this one. The woman framed in the doorway is in almost exactly the same position, but two other people have joined her. Both of those two photos have now been removed from the Yahoo News Photos site, perhaps because they were deemed too graphic. This one, shot in the same location and apparently within a second or two of the others, remains:

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The photo is captioned:

Palestinian women react from a window after an Israeli missile strike hit outside their home killing their relatives in Beit Lahiya, northern Gaza Strip,Thursday, Jan. 8, 2009. Five Palestinians were killed in the strike, Palestinian medical sources said.

One tries to visualize the circumstances under which these images were captured. The photographer is walking down the street, camera in hand. An Israeli missile explodes in the street, killing five Palestinians. The photographer, fortunately, is unhurt. He does not seek cover, but, standing in the street, raises his camera just in time, “moments” after the explosion, to see the door flung open and a relative of the deceased throw up her hands in horror at the scene. She is framed perfectly in the doorway, on a line with the bodies in the foreground. A second or two later he snaps another photo, this time of three people “reacting” in the doorway. The photographer then lifts his camera, still only moments after the missile strike, just in time to see an upstairs window flung open and two more women reacting to the scene below. The photographer stayed for the funeral, too, which produced more images of grieving civilians.

Well, it might have happened that way. Sometimes, Hamra doesn’t count on being in the right place when a missile lands. Sometimes he stations himself outside of hospitals in order to photograph wounded civilians (especially children) as they are brought in:

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Sometimes, Hamra doesn’t just wait outside the hospital; he goes inside to shoot victims as they are being treated by medical personnel, like this lovely young girl:

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Again, it is useful to consider the circumstances under which this photo was taken. Medical personnel surround the girl on three sides, administering emergency treatment in an effort to save her life. The fourth side, though–the side from which the scene can most advantageously be shot–is reserved for the photographer.

In American (and Israeli) hospitals, photographers are not permitted inside emergency rooms, let alone hovering over the bodies of wounded people. One can only imagine what an American nurse would do to a photographer who tried to pull a stunt like this. Apart from interfering with the treatment itself, photographing injured people in this manner would be viewed as a gross invasion of their privacy. But in Gaza, even the exigencies of medical care yield to the overriding need to serve Gaza’s one successful industry: the production of death and disaster, and the reproduction of images of that death and disaster for world-wide consumption.

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